Osages receive AmeriCorps grant for new Eco Park, Bird Creek farms

Mike Erwinmerwin@examiner-enterprise.com

The Osage Nation is one of 10 U.S. communities, and the only tribe, to be chosen for a health projects grant to be administered in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Operation AmeriCorps.

This unique agreement will enable the ON Communities of Excellence to address the devastating effects that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle has on residents of the Osage Reservation, according to a statement released by the ON Communities of Excellence.

Principal Chief Standing Bear accepted the grant April 19 at the Pawhuska Business Development Center. The two-year project represents an investment of nearly $1.4 million which will allow for the building of Wah Zha Zhi Eco Park and further the work underway at the tribe’s Bird Creek Farms near Pawhuska.

The funds will allow for implementation of the health initiatives through the Osage Nation Ta-Wa AmeriCorps Program. ONCOE will be able to hire fifteen new members — including 10 for the Eco Park, which is the second project in the development of its Bird Creek Farms. The other five positions will provide for continuation of the work being undertaken at the Farms.

The Operation AmeriCorps grant is the first-ever presented to a tribal entity. It will support 76 AmeriCorps members over the next two years in developing the Osage’s Wah Zha Zhi Eco Park. AmeriCorps members will also assist in creation of Bird Creek Farms, which will hold a community and collective garden to supply the Farmers Market segment of the Wah Zha Zhi Eco Park. This initiative will empower Osage communities to engage and learn about their food systems.

“I salute the Osage Nation for its visionary program that will have a significant impact on the community and its residents,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “We are thrilled to partner with the Osage Nation in the very first tribal Operation AmeriCorps project. Through Operation AmeriCorps, Osage Nation will lay the groundwork to ensure residents lead healthier, happier lives.”

Starting this summer, 15 AmeriCorps members began assisting in the creation of Bird Creek Farms and Wah Zha Zhi Eco Park. Three AmeriCorps VISTA members will begin this fall in capacity building for the project by researching and assisting in grant writing and creating a sustainable volunteer base. Over the next two years, four AmeriCorps NCCC teams will serve one term each establishing nature trails, outdoor classrooms, and creating handicap accessible fishing and scenic areas.

Operation AmeriCorps is an initiative launched by CNCS last fall for local and tribal governments to use national service as a transformative catalyst to address a high priority community challenge.

The federal agency’s investment includes $918,788 in AmeriCorps funding over two years, contingent on appropriations and performance. In addition, AmeriCorps members completing their service are eligible to earn a total of $206,280 in education scholarships to pay for higher education or pay back student loans. This federal investment of $ 1,125,068 is projected to generate an additional $273,066 in local cash and in-kind matching contributions, bringing the total two-year investment to nearly $1.4 million.

Spencer also announced that ONCOE will receive a $207,518 AmeriCorps grant from CNCS to support 15 AmeriCorps members who will serve in the Wah Zha Zhi Youth Academy and Elder Programs throughout the Osage Reservation. AmeriCorps members will help improve community health and decrease obesity within the community. AmeriCorps members will conduct the Jr. Nutrition Warrior Program, Half-Pint Academy, and work with health organizations and garden workshops. They will also be instrumental in the development and support of Bird Creek Farms.

CNCS will make available $71,625 in education scholarships for the AmeriCorps members funded by the TA-WA AmeriCorps grant. The federal investment is projected to generate an additional $97,018 in local support to increase community impact and return on federal investment, bringing the total funding to more than $376,000.

There are various opportunities with Bird Creek Farms and Wah Zha Zhi Eco Park. To learn more about the farm and park, or if you are interested in knowing more about Operation AmeriCorps contact ONCOE at (918) 287- 5267 or visit the Nation’s website www.osagenation-nsn.gov.